Top 5 Exercises You’re Probably Doing Incorrectly

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Just 700 generations ago, every human being on the planet was a hunter-gatherer. Running, throwing, jumping, lifting—and the occasional tangle with a hungry saber-tooth cat—our ancestors were world-class athletes merely out of necessity. Fast-forward a few thousand years and many of us more closely resemble the giant sloths they hunted. If you’re making an effort to exercise, congratulations! You’re part of a proud, dwindling minority. But doing an exercise incorrectly can be worse than not doing it at all. With these five often-bungled movements, form is everything.

5 Bench Press

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The most popular weight-training exercise in the history of all things heavy, the bench press is the third leg of the powerlifting trinity. A big, bad lift that—when done correctly—leads to a big, bad chest. The problem is that it’s easy to do wrong. Like curls, the biggest threat to form is ego. You want to stack on lots of plates so the bar concaves in the middle. The problem will lead to bad form, early fatigue and injury. Don’t bounce the bar off your chest, move slowly, evenly and deliberately, and most importantly, lift only the weight you can handle.

4 Curls

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Even though their only biological function is to draw your hand toward your chest, you’ve decided that you need big bulging biceps. Okay—curls, lots of curls. When you pick up the dumbbell, drop your ego. The number one reason you’re doing curls wrong is because you’re trying to lift more weight than you’re capable of lifting. Therefore, you’re using momentum to swing up the weight. Therefore, your biceps stay puny. Curls are an isolation exercise, meaning they only work if you isolate your bicep. Try concentration curls with a preacher bar. Additionally, try doing them with your back to a wall.

3 Dead Lifts

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The second act in the powerlifting trifecta, dead lifts shred every pulling muscle in the rear of your body—your lats, lower back, traps, glutes, hams and bis. Perhaps the most primal of any exercise, the move consists solely of lifting heavy iron off the floor. Dead lifts, however, are easy to get wrong, and serious injuries can and do result. Think of squats, only pulling instead of pushing. Your spine and neck must be aligned, butt out, push from your heels and keep your eyes straight ahead. Focus on each rep.

2 Push-Ups

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The staple of the bodyweight-only family of exercises, the simple push-up is revered by everyone from the U. S. Marines to the prisoners in Folsom. Do them right and your core, chest, shoulders, tris and every stabilizer muscle in between will thank you. Do them wrong and, well, you’re probably doing them wrong. Pushups should engage the entire body because you should be locked in a stiff plank throughout the motion. Turn your hands slightly out and don’t let your elbows flare out. Keep your elbows tight, go all the way down and focus on pushing up with your pecs.

1 Squats

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Many lifters say that if they could only do one exercise for the rest of their life, it would be the squat. When done correctly, you can lift more weight squatting than with any other exercise. A true full-body workout, the squat is the backbone of powerlifting. But speaking of backbone, when done wrong, it can be crippling. The high level of squat-related injuries comes down to this: Your legs can bear more weight than your back. Push from your heels, keep your butt out, head up and spine straight. There are three rules to squatting: form, form, form.

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